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Article: Connected Patients - Adopting a patient-centric approach in emerging markets

Sue Rees, May 2018

Connected PatientsThe concept of patient centricity and putting the patient at the heart of care is being widely adopted by the healthcare industry – the general consensus being that it’s going to be critical to future success.

Many pharmaceutical companies do more now for patients than just deliver safe and effective drugs – they offer support beyond the pill such as utilising digital technology to engage patients But very often the focus has been on more developed markets. Arguably there is more need, and benefit, for a patient-centric approach to be taken in the emerging and growth markets where we know that patients are the key stakeholders and need to be fully engaged in the treatment decision.

Frequently in these emerging markets the patient pays out of pocket (either 100%
or co-pay depending upon the market) for their medicines. So there is a much stronger investment, both emotional and practical in ensuring that the right medicine is taken. Patients decide when to start or stop their medication and this in turn impacts on the treatment duration, adherence and outcomes.

With the expanding middle class and increasing wealth in markets such as Brazil, India, China and Mexico, more patients are able to afford essential care or purchase private health insurance. In addition, patients are becoming better connected, more informed, and moving from being reactive patients to proactive consumers. Undoubtedly there are challenges within emerging markets in the form of lack of resources and infrastructure and limited numbers of healthcare workers. It’s essential for pharma to start thinking about designing systems around patients and adopting ways to bring care closer to them.

Healthcare technology, including genomics, mobile and internet connected devices, and big data analytics, generates a vast amount of insights which allow healthcare providers to make better and faster diagnoses and more informed treatment decisions. While we’re undoubtedly many years from this becoming the norm in emerging markets, one approach that is gradually being adopted is the use of mHealth solutions (mobile health) - the use of mobile phones and other wireless technology in medical care. The mHealth market in Brazil reached USD$531million in 2016 and is set to top USD$1.43 billion by 2020.

Mobile network connectivity is spreading fast. Even in some of the most remote
parts of the world patients are becoming ‘connected’. Mobile health solutions can be used to guide patients and caregivers to the right place at the right time. For example, they can help prevent patients travelling long distances from rural areas to their nearest health centre only to discover that the required medicine is not in stock or healthcare staff are not available. Mobile health applications can be used to inform patients when and where the appropriate medicine is available and how to find the nearest health centre with a suitable healthcare worker on duty.

In addition patients can benefit from remote diagnoses from doctors and specialists in cases where physical travel is problematic. In Malaysia a smartphone app called Doctor2U is revolutionising mobile medicine. Launched in 2015 by BPL Healthcare Group the app allows patients to request a home visit by a doctor on demand and a qualified physician will arrive within 60 minutes.

In order to develop these systems successfully, a good grasp of the markets is required. There is a complex range of patient types driven by a broad range of attitudes, behaviours, needs and cultural influences and understanding how to appeal and remain relevant to this range of patients is the key to success.

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